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Lynn Willies Gerd Weisgerber The use of fire in prehistoric and ancient mining-firesetting In: Paléorient. 2000, Vol. 26 N°2. pp. 131-149. Abstract The role of firesetting, which prevailed through millennia as the main method of exploitation raw materials in hard rock before black powder was introduced, is described, and the scientific evidence for its effects is examined. Historical and archaeological evidence is used to demonstrate and to show when and how fire was used in different situatio

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  Lynn WilliesGerd Weisgerber The use of fire in prehistoric and ancient mining-firesetting In: Paléorient. 2000, Vol. 26 N°2. pp. 131-149. AbstractThe role of firesetting, which prevailed through millennia as the main method of exploitation raw materials in hard rock beforeblack powder was introduced, is described, and the scientific evidence for its effects is examined. Historical and archaeologicalevidence is used to demonstrate and to show when and how fire was used in different situations. For a better understanding dueto the scarce evidence of data from the Near East examples from prehistoric Europe and the Middle and Far East are used.RésuméLe rôle du feu, utilisé principalement pendant des millénaires pour extraire les roches dures avant l'introduction de la poudrenoire, est décrit et ses effets naturels sont examinés. Les données archéologiques et historiques sont utilisées pour voir leur ancienneté et la manière dont le feu a servi dans différentes situations. Des exemples préhistoriques provenant d'Europe, duMoyen- Orient et d'Extrême-Orient viennent appuyer les données peu nombreuses du Proche-Orient.Citer ce document / Cite this document :Willies Lynn, Weisgerber Gerd. The use of fire in prehistoric and ancient mining-firesetting. In: Paléorient. 2000, Vol. 26 N°2. pp.131-149. doi : 10.3406/paleo.2000.4715http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/paleo_0153-9345_2000_num_26_2_4715  The Use of Fire in Prehistoricand Ancient Mining : Firesetting G. Weisgerber and L. Willies Abstract : Therole of firesetting, which prevailed through millennia as the mainmethod of exploitation raw materials in hard rock before black powder was introduced, is described, and the scientific evidence for its effects is examined. Historical and archaeolog ical vidence is used to demonstrate and to show when and how fire was used in different situations. For a better understanding due to the scarce evidence of data from the NearEast examples from prehistoric Europeand the Middle and Far East are used. Resume : Le rôledu feu, utilisé principalement pendant des millénaires pour extraire les roches dures avant l'introduction de la poudre noire,est décrit et ses effets naturels sont examinés. Les données archéologiques et historiques sont utilisées pour voir leurancienneté et la manière dont le feu a servi dans différentes situations. Des exemples préhistoriques provenant d'Europe, du Moyen- Orient et d'Extrême-Orient viennent appuyer les données peu nombreuses du Proche-Orient. Key-Words : Rocks, Physical properties, Decomposition, Bronze Age, Neolithic, Mining tools, Mining technology. Mots Clefs : Roches, Propriétés physiques, Décomposition, Age du Bronze, Néolithique, Outils miniers, Technique minière. INTRODUCTION In a 1920 mining glossary, firesetting is described as : The softening or cracking of the working face of a lode, to facilitate excavation, by exposing it to the action of a wood fire built against it. Now nearly obsolete, but much used in hard rock before the introduction of explosives l. In Derbys hire 1824 glossary said the same but added preliminary to the use of the pick 2. Firesetting is a fundamentally straightforward technique, the easiest work in mining as Hooson described it3. Agri- cola had a different opinion, and observed a considerable sophistication in use. The effect of heating rock must have been frequently observed when bonfires were surrounded by stones or pebbles. Thus preheated they were then placed in the cooking pot. Interest in mining archaeology has led to investigate firesetting as a technique, and there have been a number of recent articles4, as well as primitive bonfire attempts at experimental archaeology 5. It is the purpose of this paper to assess the scientific basis for firesetting using results of research from areas suchasmineralogy, refractories, and mineral processing ; all of them dealing with the effect of heating on rock-based materials 6. Secondly we will considerhow firesetting has been applied underground on the basis of archaeological records. HISTORICAL NOTES As for many things, for firesetting, the oldest written notes can be read or interpreted in the Bible. In Jeremiah, prophet around 628 ВС, the Lord says : Is not my word like as a fire 1. Fay, 1920 :  270, s.v. Firesetting. 2. Mander, 1824. 3. Hooson, 1747, article Fire . 4. Timberlake, 1990a, b; Craddock, 1992; Berg, 1992a, b; Willies, 1987, 1991, 1992a, b. 5. Crew, 1990 ;  Pickin and Timberlake, 1988. 6. Formore details see Willies, 1994 ; Howat, 1939. Paléorient, vol. 26/2, p. 131-149 © CNRS ÉDITIONS 2001 Manuscrit reçu le 1er septembre, accepté le 14 décembre 2000  132 G. Weisgerber and L. Willies and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ? (Jer emiah 23, 29) ; The Book of Job in the Bible 28, 5 says (around 400 ВС) : As for the earth, out of it comes bread : and under it is turned up (as it were) by fire . The citation is interpreted as firesetting 7. Despite widespread knowledge of its use, firesetting was not used in many areas, including the mines of the Levant such as at Timna 8, Feinan 9 or in Sinai because of the relative softnessof the sandstone rock. In the famous Athenian silvermines in Attica, so far no traces of firesetting have been reported or have been seen by the authors, possibly because of the softness of the marble and the relative scarcity of tim ber for fuel. Fire and smoke were forbidden in the Attica mines and were severely punished 10. Firesetting was also absent on the marbleisland of Thasos. A clearer reference to fire-setting in miningis by Agathar- chides (2nd century ВС) who is quoted by Diodorus Siculus (1st century ВС) : The earth which is hardest and full of gold they soften by putting fire under it, and then work it out with their hands. The rocks thus softenedand made morepliantand yielding, several thousands of profligate wretches break in pieces with hammers and pickaxes n. Concerning the gold mines of north-western Hispania it is in the 1st century AD thatthe use of fire setting is reported : ... Occasionally a kind of silex (quartz-richrock) is met with, which must be broken with fire andvinegar, or as the tunnels are filled with suffoca ting umes and smoke, they frequently use bruising machines, carrying 150 librae (pound) of iron 12. The myth of Hannibal who broke the rocks in the Alps to make his and his elephants' passage possible by the use of fire and vinegar (infuso aceto) was first reported by Livy (XXI, 37) 250 years afterthe event and wasseveral times repeated by Pliny (XXIII, 27 ; XXXIII, 71). The endless con tributions 13 to this insoluble problem over the last 150 years at least have produced useful observations of the destructive effects of fire on stones 14, and of the more aggressive effects of strong acetic acid solutions on heated stones, at least in 7. Maser, 1957 :  11 and 1984 :  95. 8. Conrad und Rothenberg 1980. 9. Hauptmann, 2000. 10. Demosthenes XXXVII, 36, cited by Wilsdorf, 1952 :  148, note 81.11. Woelk, 1966. 12. Pliny, Nat. Hist. 33.71, translation Hoover and Hoover, 1950 :  118О-28. 13. For discussion seeRosumek, 1982 :  23-28. 14. Classical Weekly 15, 1921/1923, 21 :  168 ;  Classical Weekly 16, 1922/1923 :  73-76 and 96; Classical Weekly 18, 1924/1925 :  88; Classical Weekly 22, 1928/1929 :  98-99, 128 and 160. Many thanks to Dr.Peter Rosu mek for granting this collection of references to the Deutsches Bergbau Mu seum together withthe articles of his great bibliography. laboratory experiments 15. In practice the throwing of water or vinegar on rock at high temperatures would be fraught with hazard : dangerous gases, exposure to heat and rock missiles from decrepitation of the rock. As interesting and as important these early citations might be, to learn the actual working and skillful application of the method, as usual, we have to refer to Agricola (1556). He was the first to describe firesetting in detail aftertheshort referen ces f antiquity. As the art of mining in his days, at leastconcerning the way to attack the rock, was not so far from ancient times, his report is cited here in full 16 : As I have just said, fire shatters the hardest rocks, but the me thod of its application is not simple. For if a vein held in hard rocks cannot be hewn out because of the hardness or its thin width/thickness, dried logs are piled up and fired ; and if the drift or tunnel is low, one heap, if the drift or tunnel ishigh, two heaps are necessary, of which one is placed above the other, and both are let burning until the fire has consumed them.Its force does not generally soften a large portion of the vein, but only some shells of the surface. When the iron tools can work the rock in the hanging- or footwall but the vein is so hard that it is not tractable to the same tools, and then the walls are hollowed out ; if this were in the end of the drift or tunnel or above or below. The vein is thenbroken by fire, but not always by the same method. For if the hollow is wide, as many logs are piled into it as possible, but if it is narrow, only a few. By the one method the greater fire se parates the vein more completely from the foot-wall or someti mes rom the hanging-wall, and by the other, the smaller fire breaksaway less of the vein fromthe rock, but because in that case the heat is confined and kept in check by pieces of the rock set in front of the wood held in the narrow excavation, it can se parate the vein from the rock. Further, if the excavation is low,only one pile of logs is placed in it, if high,there are two, one placed above the other,by which plan the lower bundle being kindled sets alight the upper one. And the fire being driven by the draught into the vein, separates it from the rock which, however hard it may be, often becomes softenedas to be the most easily breakable of all... Even if a vein is a very wide one, as tin veins usually are, miners excavate into the small streaks, and into those hollows they put dry wood and place amongst them at frequent intervals sticks, all sides of which are shaved down fan shaped, which easily take light, and when once they have taken fire com municate into the other bundles of wood, which easily ignite. While the heated veins and rockare giving forth a foetid vapour and the shafts or tunnelsare emitting fumes, the miners do not go down in the mines lest the stench affect their health or actually kill the workmen... As for thatpart of a vein or the exfoliated pie ces of the rock which the fire has separated from the remaining mass, if it is overhead, the miners dislodge it with a crowbar, or if it still has some degree of hardness, they thrust a smaller crowbar 15. Shepherd, 1992. 16. Agricola, 1556 in Hoover and Hoover, 1950 with a few amend ments by the authors. Paléorient, vol. 26/2, p. 131-149 © CNRS ÉDITIONS 2001  The Use of Fire in Prehistoric and Ancient Mining :  Firesetting 133 Vhl.X Fig. I : Gdtzschmann illustrates 1846 toolsand ways of firesettingstill in use. 17 is how to sink a shaft where a separation into two parts is necessary for a controlled ventilation. into the cracks and so break it down. But if it is on the sides they break it with hammers. Thus broken off, the rock tumbles down or if it still remains, they break it off with hammers and gads . Agricola gives a well-known illustrationof firesetting, which will not be repeated here 17. Later texts andillustrations concerning firesetting are informative 18, e.g. the Gatzschmannn Table X (fig. 1) gives a lot of details mentioned above. Butmainly these books written by mining engineers report other times and other dimensions of mining. In their days explosi ves erewidely used, and firesetting had lost more and more of its former importance.Nevertheless it must be mentioned that firesetting in some areas was still in use until the end of the 19th and, in India 19, even into the 20th century whenever it was economic (because of cheapness of wood, e.g. in Scandi navia) or necessary at special geological circumstances with tough rocks because of its superiority compared with explosi ves 0. Because There are few, if any, rocks so hard that they cannot be successfully attacked by boring small holes with steel borers and blasting them with charges of dynamite ... If, however, such rocks should be encountered there remains a last means of cutting through them : it consists in surprising the rock first of all by means of fire, and then attacking it by the normal methods 21.The efficacy of firesetting is repre sented in the 21st century by the use of fuel/oxygen lances for cutting-out large blocks of monumental granite in quarries. 17. Ibid. :  120.18. Rossler, 1700; Cancrinus, 1773; Delius, 1773; Gátzschmann, 1846. 19. Craddock, 1996. 20. E.g. in the Harz/Germany, see Bartels, 1988. 21. Callon, 1876-1886 :  176. Paléorient, vol.26/2, p. 131-149 © CNRS ÉDITIONS 2001
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